REACTION: The show must go on
ENTERTAIN US! The audience is ready. We’re lined up in a fancy building reserved for the “really good” shows – or at least for the “famous” people, there are lights, there’s a big stage, beautiful music…but…umm, where are the performers? Where’s the action? Hey, why won’t you show me feats of daring and exceptional skill?
<%image(20080912-20080910a_festival_0144 web.jpg|350|233|Photo: Jacques-Jean Tiziou/www.jjtiziou.net)%>Don’t expect to get the same old kind of show from French choreographer and concept artist Jérôme Bel – far from it – but it’s okay to relax when you finally find your seat inside the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater: you will be entertained (and do get there early, by the way; the house will be packed and seating is general admission).
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The show must go on features a cast of professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds in dance and theater, but none display their specialized skills. No one is a virtuoso in this show. Instead, each individual seizes our attention simply because of her or his own body. With your attention free to drift among the ensemble, there’s time to take in each detail of their movements, from a toe-tapping tic during the Macarena to the oh-so-many moving parts that shake it to the 1994 Billboard hit “I Like to Move It.” (Yes, I said the Macarena. You will recognize nearly every piece of music selected for the performance. That’s part of the fun.)
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Of course, Macarena notwithstanding, something other than just fun and games is afoot. Your first clue is that a sound tech is sitting right in front of the stage. Usually these people are hidden in a booth somewhere behind or above the audience seating. If dance could be imagined as a pair of cargo pants, Bel would be turning each pocket inside out. All the seams are visible: the sound tech, the light switches, you even have to spend time staring at how grainy the floor of the stage appears. And while you’re watching each minutiae of the show, be sure to listen to the lyrics in the music. The dancers literally follow the directions of each song. For me, this directness opened up an extremely vulnerable – yet wonderfully adaptive – space of responsiveness, a space made especially visible to me in the softly tragicomic ending.
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The ideas at work in the piece certainly involve raising the self-consciousness of the audience and taking apart traditional expectations of what a dance performance should be. The show must go on also works against the idea of representing anything at all in a very deliberate and extended way. There is no real story-line (though there are some interesting associative links from one piece to the next), no allegory, and no system of symbols to work through. What you see and hear is what you get.
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Philadelphia’s first audience for The show must go on made last night’s performance their own. Not only did I want to go out and hug someone after the show, but I was invigorated, resensitized if you will, about being my own individual in a dynamic, collective society. The show is going on right now, folks. I hope you’ll make it.